Meeting Sheds Light On Pipeline Extension Project

June 17, 2016 GMT

LEHMAN TWP. — Debate over the merits of the proposed Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline extension that would run through the Back Mountain raged on Thursday night.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hosted a meeting at Lake-Lehman High School to allow public comment on the commission’s preliminary environmental impact statement on the proposed pipeline.

Williams Companies Inc., a major energy supply company, wants to extend an existing gas pipeline to transport Marcellus Shale gas from Susquehanna County, through Wyoming County, into northern Luzerne County, then southwest into Central Pennsylvania. It would run parallel to an existing Williams-owned gas pipeline in places. The proposed pipeline would run though portions of Fairmount, Lake, Lehman, Ross and Dallas townships.

More than 100 people attended the meeting and more than 30 signed up to speak. They shared strong opinions for and against the project.

Those in favor cited the jobs the pipeline would create, Williams’ record as an environmentally friendly energy supplier and the benefits of boosting domestic energy production.

Those opposed noted the inherent dangers of shipping combustible gas through populated areas, potential negative environmental impacts and the threat of being forced to allow the pipeline to run through their property via the power of eminent domain.

Kevin Lynn, of Harveys Lake, spoke in favor of the pipeline.

Lynn said he knows well-meaning people who oppose the pipeline. For them he had one question: “In five years, will we need more energy or less?”

The answer is clearly “more,” he said, adding that he wants that energy to be “clean, abundant and domestic.”

He also touted the environmental benefits of natural gas as an energy source, noting it is twice as clean as coal.

Ed Gillette, of the International Union of Operating Engineers, was among dozens of union workers who attended the meeting to support the project.

“This will support 2,300 construction jobs,” Gillette said.

The pipeline will help the public benefit from lower electric and heating costs from natural gas, he said.

Walter Kochan of the Kunkle section of Dallas Township made clear his disdain for the project.

Kochan criticized Williams for trying to force its pipeline onto the land of unwilling property owners — including him — and for making low payment offers to obtain property easements. He described those in favor of the pipeline as “shills” for Williams out for their own financial gain.

He also noted that proponents’ arguments in favor of domestic energy were false, since much of the gas pumped through the pipeline will be exported overseas.

“All this gas is going to Asia,” he said.

Kochan’s comments, including some salty language, drew catcalls and boos from pipeline proponents.

Alex Lotorto, shale gas program coordinator for the Energy Justice Network, said the pipeline would cause, “irreparable harm to property and the environment without any public benefit that outweighs the cost.”

Lotorto spoke in favor of private property rights and noted that eminent domain should only be used to seize land or enforce easement “for the public good and only when necessary.” The proposed pipeline does not meet that standard, he said.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will consider public input and issue a final environmental impact statement on the Atlantic Sunrise proposal later this year — probably in October, according to Joanne Wachholder, a FERC manager.

emark@citizensvoice.com, 570-821-2117

What: Proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline extension to existing Transco gas pipeline

Who: Williams Companies, Inc., one of the largest energy providers in the nation

Where: The pipeline would start near Lenox in Susquehanna County, run through Wyoming County and into the Back Mountain — to Fairmount, Lake, Lehman, Dallas and Ross townships — before running southwest into Central Pennsylvania.

Latest developments: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission held a public meeting Thursday night at Lake-Lehman High School to receive comment on FERC’s preliminary Environmental Impact Statement on the pipeline proposal. More than 30 people signed up to speak for or against the project. In order to construct the pipeline, Williams needs approval from FERC, which regulates interstate natural gas pipelines.